Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Quick, Pickle! (Freezer Dill Cukes in Strawberry Vinaigrette)
I got thinking about pickles thanks to my friend Tom's recent post over at marthaandtom.com . There hasn't been a lot around to pickle so far this year. I did up a jar of ramps earlier in the spring, and I wanted to do some asparagus, but thought I might have missed the boat. The Minneapolis Farmers Market came through for me--at the North Lyndale site on a weekday morning I was able to find excellent asparagus, along with hothouse cucumbers, snow peas, strawberries, and green garlic. All of the above were put to use in a quick pickling session that produced a half pint each of pickled asparagus and snow peas,* and a quick cucumber pickle inspired by my friend Tata's method (see below).
The asparagus and snow pea pickles were quick in that they took little time to make, though they need to cure a few days to develop best flavor. This is my main pickling M.O. these days, a sort of stealth/guerilla approach that allows me to get some pickles in jars before I realize I'm "preserving" or embarking on a "canning" endeavor.
Fact is, I rarely process anything anymore (and never much did). I don't make large batches of anything, prefer freezing my excess tomatoes rather than canning them, and have an extra fridge in the basement, purchased to hold cases of butter and many dozens of eggs during our market baking days. So the few jars of cornichons, bread & butters, ramps, etc., that I put up go into that basement fridge, where they keep just fine. If our apple and blackberry crops come through this year, as it's seeming they will, I'll devote a few days to jam and jelly making, for sure, but the processing kettle doesn't really see a lot of use here.
The strawberries hereabove mentioned didn't get pickled, per se, but they did meet up with vinegar and other things in a dressing for a rather oddball, but tasty and refreshing, salad. We've had really, really fragrant, wonderful strawberries this year, mainly from Wisconsin, and I'd been thinking about ways to use them other than the usual sweet applications--not to say I have anything against strawberry shortcake, strawberries over ice cream, or, in an inspired Bide-A-Wee breakfast one-off, butter-toasted croutons with strawberries, cream, and maple syrup.
The notion of a strawberry vinaigrette intrigued me, but I didn't know what to serve it with. I thought of blanched English peas, but they didn't seem substantial enough, and I thought the dressing would slide right off those smooth little orbs; snow peas, likewise, seemed too slippery. I was stymied. Then I read Tom's post, and I remembered Tata's quick freezer pickles, and I thought, Hmmm.... Seemed dicey, but if I wanted to use the strawberries in a savory way, I couldn't hedge my bets. I can well imagine that the combination of strawberries, dill, and garlic will turn a few heads, but stick with me a minute.
I think this hinges on how we think of fruits and their uses, and how we categorize flavors. I got the idea last summer to put cucumbers and crab apples together in a pickle, and it was wonderful. I thought then, and I was thinking in preparing this salad, that I was combining disparate elements, fruit and vegetable, but then I thunk again: I do not know how all this shakes out botanically, but a cucumber is by nature what we widely consider a fruit, to wit, a melon. It's a pale watermelon without the sweetness. It's a juicer, milder zucchini. In Chinese, of which I know a smidgen, and most of it food-related, the relationship is clear: cucumber, huang gua (yellow melon); zucchini, nan gua (south[ern] melon); winter melon, dong gua (winter melon). (I don't know what the Chinese for watermelon is, but I'm going to fling out a guess: xi hong gua, literally "western red melon." I'll Google it later.) A salad of watermelon with feta cheese is in danger of becoming a cliché before it's time; strawberries and cucumbers might just work.
In fact, it worked very well indeed. Combined with tart and savory things in the dressing, the berries expressed their tart and fragrant side. Napping the chilled, salty, garlicky cukes, the vinaigrette provided a delightful counterpoint. I think this would be good on blanched or quick-pickled green beans, too. Perhaps they'll overlap for a week, so I can give that a try.
I tried the combination in a different variation this past weekend at Bide-A-Wee, tossing cucumbers with green garlic, goat yogurt, cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and topping that with sliced strawberry and salted milkweed flower buds--excellent.
It's worth noting that these quick salted pickles contain no vinegar--the combination of a vinaigrette on a vinegar pickle might be a little much. Perhaps some intrepid soul will try that out and report the results.
The freezer pickles are good on their own, beside a burger or sandwich (hell, I'm sure you know how to eat a pickle...). The dressing, too, could simply go over mixed greens--a gutsy salad, with some arugula, cress, mizuna, mustard, what-have-you, would be best, I think.
1/2 cup chopped very ripe strawberries
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (preferably unpasteurized)
3 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
1 teaspoon honey
a few grinds of black pepper
a good pinch of espelette or cayenne pepper
Combine all in a blender or mini food processor. Blend until smooth.
Tata's Quick Freezer Garlic Dill Pickles
1 large cucumber
a few sprigs of fresh dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
coarsely ground black pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon
1 teaspoon salt
Coarse salt, like French gray sea salt, or fleur de sel flakes
Peeling lengthwise, take a few strips of the cucumber skin off with a vegetable peeler, leaving a few strips of skin intact, creating a striped effect. Halve the cucumber lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut each half into three long strips, then cut the strips into two-inch lengths. In a quart zip bag combine everything but the strawberries, close the top and mix everything together thoroughly. Place the bag in the freezer for 23 minutes. Remove the bag from the freezer and mix again. Leave it in the fridge until you're ready to finish the salad--or just use it as a pickle.
To make the salad, dump the cucumbers into a mixing bowl, dill, garlic, and all. Pour off any liquid that has accumulated. Toss with the vinaigrette. To each portion add a few slices of fresh strawberries and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Serve.
*I put up the asparagus and snow peas in the brine described here , except that I made the brine with a little more salt and a little less sugar than that recipe calls for. Also, to the asparagus I added chile, garlic, black peppercorns, and a good sprig of dill (volunteering willingly in my garden this year); to the snow peas I added chile, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, and a couple slices of ginger. A jar of each was quick to make, though these are not "quick pickles" in the way Tom uses the term. They need to cure for a week or so to be really nicely pickled, and I'll just keep them in the fridge and use them up within a few weeks.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw